Tear-Jerker Flicks & Depression Relapse

Counselor Online

“I‘ve always cried at movies. I’ve never read much into it, but I guess I’ve wondered if there’s a connection with my depression.”

Oh, who really knows for sure. But it’s at least interesting that a recent depression relapse study used sad flicks as lab stimuli.

Before we get going, I want you to think about something. Would it really be front page news that variations in brain anatomy and physiology call the shots regarding who recovers from depression and who chronically relapses?

How could it not be true? After all, we are who our brains dictate.

Well, for my money it isn’t so much the facts themselves. It’s how we use them to draft wellness strategies.

fMRIs & Tear-Jerkers

It wasn’t the biggest study, and more work is indicated. But researchers at the University of Toronto came up with some thought-provoking depression relapse work.

The Canadian brain-trust warmed-up their functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines and rounded-up some participants. There were 16 who’d been successfully treated for depression (having relapse potential), and 16 who’d never been depressed. All of them agreed to be followed for 18 months.

Well, if you’re going to study depression relapse you’d better come up with something to make your participants sad.

Know what they used? Yep, tear-jerker flicks. Okay, gotta’ ask – what would be your Top 3?

And What Did They Find?

The results were darned interesting – and telling. In response to the movies, it seems the areas of the brain that lit up in the former depression sufferers directly correlated with whether or not they’d ultimately require more treatment.

In fact, it was found that they were more likely to relapse within an 18 month time frame.

Specifically, the fireworks went off in areas of the brain that have been associated with ongoing thinking and ruminating. No surprise there, huh. Incidentally, if you’d like to learn more about the clinical side of rumination, here’s a recent chipur article that will fill in some blanks –  Depression & Rumination: Facts and Fixes.

The participants who’d never endured depression (and would therefore have zilch chances of experiencing a depression relapse)? The action occurred in an entirely different part of the brain.

Internalizing Sadness

So what are the dynamics behind the emotions and fMRI results? It appears those who’d endured depression were apt to internalize sadness. Whereas those who’d never been depressed received the flicks as a sensory experience, pure and simple.

And so this seems to be about vulnerability.

But don’t ever forget that vulnerability doesn’t equate to an automatic depressive presentation. No, it’s about how one handles exposure to brief events that hold the potential to induce depression.

It’s absolutely a skill that can be learned. And the lessons can accumulate into a strong and reliable ability to regulate emotion and remain well.

The Implications

Again, more work needs to be done; however, the study opens a lot of doors. Says clinical neuropsychologist Scott Langenecker, who wasn’t involved in the research…

“The basic treatment strategy that we have right now is trial and error. And as a result, perhaps only 40 percent of people improve in the first round of treatment – an improvement that takes at least three months to become apparent. That’s a long time for people to suffer.”

He goes on to suggest that the notion of basing treatments on observed brain activity could well raise first-treatment success rates to upwards of 70%.

The Close

The biggest lesson learned here is not so much that varying brain anatomy and physiology generates different mood presentations.

What we’ve really learned is these variations cause vulnerabilities, which can be managed.

Listen, if you’re a movie crier, I don’t want you to convince yourself you’re ready-set-go for a depression relapse. I just want you to connect-the-dots between how your brain may work – and what you can do about it.

Looking for more chipur Feelin’ Better articles? Right here. How ’bout more on the psychology of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder? All yours.